How to drive more sales with relationship selling

How to drive more sales with relationship selling

If you’re looking for a way to improve sales at your organization, relationship-based selling is a proven model. Relationship selling refers to a sales approach that prioritizes lasting connections with buyers and customers over short-term transactional relationships.

Does relationship selling work?

Research indicates that sales representatives who take a relationship-based selling approach perform better than those who don’t. According to that research:

To realize those benefits, your team must understand your customers’ needs and pain points. That way, they can offer a solution that meets each prospect’s specific needs. 

In this article, we’ll explain how to do that. We’ll cover:

  • What relationship selling is
  • Relationship selling best practices
  • Relationship selling tools

What is relationship selling?

Relationship-based selling focuses on building relationships instead of just making a sales pitch and overcoming objections. 

According to marketing professor Dr. Marvin Jolson, the defining characteristic of relationship selling is that the salesperson no longer approaches their job as “ a series of struggles that the salesperson must win.” Unlike traditional methods of personal selling, relationship selling aims to:

  • Maintain relationships beyond the sale
  • Generate repeat business from customers
  • Provide a stellar customer experience 

Of course, other factors, like price and delivery, are still important, but with relationship selling, you go beyond these technicalities. You get to know your prospects and their pain points, adapt to their needs, and build a relationship based on trust. 

What are the advantages of relationship-based selling? 

Relationship selling has several benefits that help build a more profitable business. Chief among them is that a growing body of research suggests that developing relationships and building trust with your customers improves sales.

That’s because relationship selling leads to:

Relationship selling best practices 

To build a successful relationship sales strategy, you need to be an active listener and be honest, dependable, and trustworthy. Otherwise said, the critical ingredients to relationship selling are the same as to any relationship. Let’s discuss the details. 


Active-empathetic listening

The most crucial factor in successful relationship selling is effective listening. Active-empathetic listening (AEL) works best to improve relationship quality and trust

AEL has three stages:

  • The sensing stage. In this stage, you hear the words and indicate that you are listening through visual cues like nodding.
  • The interpreting stage. This stage occurs internally as you determine the meaning of what you heard.
  • The responding stage. In the final stage, you demonstrate that you understood the message and indicate the next step in the conversation.

You can work on improving active-empathetic listening through role-plays.


Adaptive selling

Every customer will want a slightly different thing. Adaptive selling, “the altering of sales behaviors during a customer interaction or across customer interactions based on perceived information about the nature of the selling situation,” is positively associated with better sales outcomes. 

Adaptive selling requires:

  • An understanding of different sales approaches
  • The ability to evaluate which approach will work best for a particular prospect
  • The confidence to use different approaches depending on the situation
  • The ability to change approaches as needed

Adaptive selling enables your sales team members to switch gears in response to verbal and visual cues to build rapport and remove friction from the sales process.


Customer orientation

Customer orientation, or customer focus, is “the extent to which salespeople understand their target customers and are willing to create superior value for them.” Look for ways to add value to your customers’ lives and not just close deals. Use AEL to understand things from their perspective and look for ways to adapt to their needs.

It’s important to note that there are costs inherent in customer orientation. Depending on the length of your sales cycle and the lifetime value of your customers, some customer relationship methods will not be viable.

But keep the customer in mind. As much as practical, work to collaborate with them on a workable solution.


Add value after the sale

After closing a sale, make sure that your customers are satisfied with the product or service: check that with them proactively and ask them for feedback. This way, you show them that you value their opinion and that you care about their experience. If they have any concerns or are dissatisfied with something, it’s crucial to make sure that you resolve the issue straight away.


Maintain the relationship 

Relationships are essential for businesses that count on having repeat customers and companies or rely on a subscription model. Maintain strong relationships with your existing customers and make sure they come to you again in the future.

By building relationships this way, you turn your customers into advocates and brand ambassadors. If someone in their circle needs the same product, they’ll recommend you without hesitation. 

How can you use relationship selling in practice? 

Relationship selling can be used both in a B2B and B2C context and isn’t limited to any specific field or type of product. But it’s especially effective when your sales cycle is longer. 

When your offering requires a more substantial commitment of time or money, strong relationships with your prospects let them know they can trust your company. That trust makes them more likely to purchase.

“Relationship selling behaviors: antecedents and relationship with performance,” a study published in The Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, found that “interaction intensity and mutual disclosure have a significant effect on salesperson performance.”

Interaction intensity refers to how frequently a salesperson interacts with a prospect. Mutual disclosure is the act of exchanging personal and business information between the prospect and the salesperson. Each of these factors plays a vital role in relationship selling because they lead to trust and understanding. 

To create an environment that increases interaction intensity and encourages mutual disclosure, you should:

  • Talk to your prospects to understand their problems and pain points better
  • Ask questions of a business and, when appropriate, in a personal nature and reciprocate with your own disclosures
  • Take detailed notes, either during meetings or right after
  • Adapt to prospect requirements as much as practical

Relationship selling tools

When meeting in person isn’t practical, you can integrate relationship selling into a digital sales process. Visual engagement tools like video chat, co-browsing, website annotation, and screen sharing, promote an increase in interaction intensity and mutual disclosures.

For example, if you’re selling a digital platform or web app, co-browsing technology enables you to walk through the platform with prospects and give them control so they can try it for themselves as you guide them.

Build your business by building relationships

The latest academic research into sales performance suggests that relationship selling is one of the most effective ways to increase sales. And by following the relationship selling best practices we’ve shared here, you won’t just improve short-term revenue. You’ll create loyal customers who will impact the health of your business for years to come.

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